Game Intro

‘Minecraft Legends’ is a slice of blocky brilliance

It’s hard to overstate just how impactful Minecraft’s arrival was in 2009. The work of a tiny team, this mammoth maker sim came out of nowhere, blindsiding the industry with its jaw-dropping scale and seemingly limitless creativity. Now, 14 years and one unstoppable cultural phenomenon later, developer Mojang is expanding its world of imagination into a different childhood fantasy: being king of the castle.

As you may expect, Legends’ playful pivot into the strategy genre is a natural fit for Minecraft. When I was a kid, I used to spend hours painstakingly arranging my figures in the garden, placing my plasticky platoon in prime position for the imaginary skirmish to come. It’s this feeling of looking down on toy troops and storming Fisher Price castles that Legends captures perfectly, except this time I get to charge into blocky battle before getting called in for dinner.

A collaboration between Mojang and strategy experts Blackbird Interactive, Legends ultimately plays like an action-packed blend of Halo Wars and Mount and Blade. While you still mine – and indeed craft – this time your reliance on resources is viewed through the zoomed-out lens of the real-time strategy genre. As I roam the vast blocky overworld, the first thing I’m struck by is just how intuitive commanding units feels with a controller. Wisely opting for immediacy over bombarding you with layers of systems, Legends sees you simply selecting your unit type with a squeeze of the trigger and ordering them to either follow, wait or advance in the direction you’re facing.

Minecraft Legends
Minecraft Legends. Credit: Xbox Game Studios

Unlike its top-down peers, you’ll be personally leading your army into the fray, riding your mount into the battle as you dispatch any unlucky enemies with a swing of your sword. It’s a good thing you’ve got that sword too, because in Legends you’re going to be slaughtering a lot of adorable creatures. While things are usually fairly chill in Minecraft, this time around players will find themselves making a truce with the once-deadly creepers and zombies in order to face a fearsome curly-tailed new foe – the piglins. Like a sentient horde of murderous Percy pigs, these pink menaces have swarmed the once peaceful Overworld. Luckily, you’re around to set up defences and rid the land of this oinking menace.

The one area where Legends surprised me was in its lack of proper building. Combining an RTS with Minecraft, you’d expect an array of endlessly customisable towers and buildings. Yet despite the obvious opportunity to craft sprawling modular kingdoms, Legends largely opts to sideline the series’ beloved building element, instead focusing on combat, resource gathering and exploration. Much like spawning into your first world in vanilla, Legends’ campaign sees players roaming a vast map filled with secrets, enemies and narrative beats to uncover. In trailers, Legends is portrayed as a story-focused adventure, yet outside of its surprisingly cinematic Pixar-esque intro and subsequent tutorial, the narrative beats seem to take a back seat to getting your kingdom on.

Still, much like in vanilla Minecraft, you’ll make plenty of dramatic moments of your own. Freeing villages from the hoofed clutches of the pugnacious Piglin feels like a momentous occasion, with a swelling orchestral score marking your blocky avatar as a fearless hero of the realm. It’s here that you get a peak into regular Minecraft life. Having helplessly watched you violently liberate their base from the advancing pink horde, once the pink menace vanishes, the voxel-based villagers calmly resume their blocky animated routines, which I can only assume is building giant dicks in obnoxious YouTube videos.

Minecraft Legends
Minecraft Legends. Credit: Xbox Game Studios

As you progress through Legends’ story, you’ll slowly unlock new units to command and a whole host of weird and wonderful mounts to straddle. From your classic neighing steed to a winged beetle that scurry their way over castle walls, these creatures help to mix things up and add some personality to your unique brand of conquering.

While an epic story-led adventure is how Legends is being sold, I actually came away most impressed with Legends’ engrossing PVP component. After being gently guided through the game’s first hour and drip-fed its mechanics, being chucked into Legends’ full suite of tools in multiplayer felt surprisingly complex. With only a few of the core mechanics revealing themselves in our single-player demo, my first multiplayer match saw me playing catch up. It took forty minutes for our tense showdown to reach each conclusion, with us all collectively wrapping our heads around which resources were essential, how best to advance and when to mount our full unit attack on the enemy’s base.

Minecraft Legends
Minecraft Legends. Credit: Xbox Game Studios

While RTS titles regularly pit lone players against each other, working together to improve your kingdom while sharing units and dividing and conquering added a refreshingly social twist to an often-solitary genre. Creating different units requires a neat juggling of resources and building types, demanding that you venture out into various faraway corners of the map in order to help grow your base into a blocky behemoth. While one of our unit diligently built walls and turrets, the other went charging into a Piglin encampment. As my remaining teammate went off to collect the necessary resources, I went on a covert op, spying on our enemies’ progress and erecting some cheeky turrets just shy of their base.

It all feels a bit like being part of a group project, as you all excitedly dash off to complete certain tasks before uniting behind your walls to excitedly show the other the fruits of your labour. While selecting individual units is infinitely quicker with a mouse and keyboard, console players can still divide their units into smaller groups with relative ease, sending out tough golem units to make short work of enemy towers while ensuring that your archers remain at a safe distance.

As the night goes on, the advancing hordes of Piglins grow more deadly too. With the puny cute menaces initially merely an annoyance, as you and your enemy’s kingdom advance, suddenly you find yourself being attacked by nightmarish pink juggernauts, as though Pegga Pig’s DNA has been spliced into an unholy gelatin juggernaut. It’s a nice way to ramp up the team-based tension, with your increasingly desperate clashes with your human opponents often colliding with aggressive advances from the Piglin horde.

I came away impressed with Minecraft Legends. It’s a game that brings a sense of imagination and playfulness to an often dense genre, and one that’s sure to be a hit with younger players. Yet while my peak at its story segment felt fun enough, Legends PVP was the real star. It’s in this intriguing multiplayer setup that vanilla Minecraft’s collaborative creativity really shined through. When part of a team of kingdom builders, everyone has different ideas on how best to expand their empire and take down their rivals, ensuring that working as part of a team of four to defeat another civilization felt unlike any recent multiplayer experience I’ve had. Bring on the blocky broadband battles.

Minecraft Legends will release for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S on April 18. 

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